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ISLAMABAD: The Islamic Advisory Group for Polio Eradication (IAG) has launched a new training manual for students of religious studies in support of the polio eradication efforts.

The manual provides practical guidance on how to engage with local communities to advocate for vaccination as well as other maternal and child health issues.

According to a statement issued by the World Health Organisation here on Thursday, the launching took place at the group’s fourth annual meeting convened at Al Azhar University Egypt by Grand Imam Dr Ahmed El-Tayyib on Wednesday.

“As Muslims we shouldn’t still be discussing a subject that has already been settled a long time ago. This is a situation that has resulted from the misunderstanding of our Quran and religion and its teachings,” said the imam.

The launch of the training manual follows IAG’s efforts to prepare students of religious studies at key universities in predominantly Muslim countries to act as advocates for critical health initiatives particularly in high-risk areas where marginalised and underserved populations reside.

In addition to the polio eradication, the manual also covers topics related to routine immunisation, breastfeeding, birth spacing, care-seeking behaviour for pregnant women and hygiene and sanitation from both health as well as religious perspectives. This can help the students address unhealthy practices and taboos that have been inherited by their local communities when they are found.

Polio has paralysed and killed mostly children for thousands of years. At the World Health Assembly in 1988, ministers of health from WHO member states set the goal to eradicate the disease. This was at a time when the number of polio cases worldwide was estimated to be at 350,000 in 125 countries.

Today, levels of wild poliovirus transmission are the lowest in history with only 15 cases reported so far in 2017 (10 in Afghanistan and five in Pakistan). This represents a decrease in cases by over 99.9pc since 1988.

But eradicating polio from the last remaining strongholds has proven to be a challenge requiring the exertion of special and innovative efforts by all the partners involved.

Once successful, it will be only the second time in history that a communicable disease was eradicated from the world through human efforts. The first success came with smallpox which was declared eradicated in 1980 after a global vaccination campaign led by the WHO.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2017